ONE

Thailand, Khao Lak, Boxing Day 2004

The lukewarm breeze from the Indian Ocean was pleasant, like a gentle feather sweeping over her skin. Anna Stenbock sat in a sun lounger on the patio of a stilted hotel bungalow with her husband of eight days, Erik Stenbock, asleep in the chair next to her. The Swedish medieval castle of Torpa, to which Erik was the sole heir, was thousands of miles away. Nevertheless, like so many times before in the last couple of weeks, Anna’s mind wandered to its snow-covered roof and dark irregularly-sized windows. She shivered when she visualised the castle tower. In her mind she climbed the stairs and stopped when she reached the second floor landing. She faced the wall on the opposite side and imagined stroking it with her hand, assessing the material and the thickness of it. She knew that behind the plastered surface was a gap between the inner and outer wall; an unexplained vacuum which according to tradition no one had dared to enter for hundreds of years. A medieval legend told the tale of a girl, the daughter of a knight, who was suspected of having caught the plague on a trip to visit relatives in Denmark six hundred years ago. To prevent an outbreak of the disease, the girl’s father buried her alive inside the wall by blocking up the space where there had been a door. Her screams could be heard for three days and three nights. Local folklore proclaimed that any attempt to open her resting place had been followed by someone’s death, resulting in a lack of enthusiasm for further discovery.

Until recently Anna had believed in the legend and had imagined, like most people who had taken the guided tour of the castle, that if the wall was ever opened they would find a dusty medieval skeleton with a mummy-like expression of fear forever etched on its skull. Although that was a disturbing notion, it was nothing to what she now knew or rather suspected was actually hidden in there. A few days before the wedding she had made a discovery which revealed a shocking truth about the contents of the void. Although the white-rendered stone building was no longer fit for modern habitation, Anna had spent a lot of time in it since she met Erik five years earlier. She found the place intriguing and irresistible, allowing her to make good use of her history degree, researching rare journals left by generations of Torpa occupants. She now wished she hadn’t; desperately wanting to return to her previous ignorant existence.

She took a sip of her coffee and put down the cup before she glanced over at Erik. It was shortly after breakfast but she wasn’t surprised that he had allowed himself to get lulled into a happy trance-like state. Apart from being lazy, he was perfect in every way. Appearance wise he was as one would imagine a skilled Renaissance artist capturing a Greek warrior god; his blonde hair flawlessly arranged despite having done nothing to it apart from bathing in salty water and leaving it to dry in the wind; his tanned upper body muscular in an almost pedantic way even though he never went to the gym. At present his face was relaxed and partly concealed by sunglasses but she knew that as soon as he smiled, straight teeth and dimples in both cheeks would appear. She found it funny that he remained completely oblivious to his own good looks and as far as she knew he didn’t notice the constant glances and attention he was getting from members of the opposite sex. She loved that about him. In fact she loved everything about him, perhaps apart from his stubbornness… and his dangerous habit of sleepwalking.

She wanted to tell him what she had found out about Torpa, craved to… but she couldn’t. Of course she couldn’t tell anyone… She moved up and down in the sun lounger, as if she kept adjusting a driving seat in a car. She knew Erik wouldn’t appreciate a reminder of the contentious issues of the old place anyway. It would trigger associations with his unhappy childhood. If only the wall could be opened so that she could have it confirmed. In the end she decided she had to at least ask him. She poked his arm, leaned over him and took his sunglasses off.

“Erik, there’s something I have to ask you,” she said in a loud voice to wake him up. “It’s very important so you’ll have to listen to me.” He appeared startled, held his breath and looked as if he thought she was about to ask for an annulment of their marriage. She moved his feet and sat down at the end of his chair, taking one of his hands and playing with his fingers as she spoke: “You know the legend about the medieval girl buried alive inside a wall at Torpa…”

“Yes…” he said with a mixture of relief and confusion, starting to breathe again. “We need to open the castle wall where the girl may have been buried. The reason why I ask this is because I believe the wall is hiding something of importance.”

A familiar wrinkle of irritation appeared between his eyebrows: “How important could a skeleton of a girl buried hundreds of years ago be?” he asked rhetorically.

“I’m telling you; I have reason to believe that the space between the inner and outer wall where she supposedly died is hiding something else. I’m afraid I can’t tell you more than that but please believe me when I say that the only way to find out for sure is to open that wall.” She stood up in an attempt to emphasise her words.

Erik was unmoved. “I thought you knew my stance on this. The poor girl’s resting place should not be disturbed. Grave robbery is not my business, that’s for sure. And the legend about the girl buried alive in the wall is a major tourist attraction for the castle,” he added. “To open the wall would ruin this. My mother would simply never allow it.” She could see from his momentarily widened eyes that his own reference to his mother had surprised him. That Erik agreed with his mother was very unusual.

“Can you please at least ask her?” she begged.

“No, I know what she’ll say. There’s no point in having this discussion. Can you please drop it and enjoy our honeymoon.” He leaned back in his chair and put his sunglasses back on, pretending that the conversation had never happened.

Anna sat back down in her chair. She regretted bringing it up. She didn’t want to ruin what had so far been a wonderful holiday. To lighten up the atmosphere she added with a smirk: “Well I suppose so. We all know what’s happened to everyone who has tried to break open the wall.” She paused for effect, waived her hands to simulate ghosts and waited for his reaction. He managed a smile but didn’t say anything until he suddenly got up.

“I fancy a jog. I’ll be back shortly”, he said before he went into the bungalow. She silently watched him through the window; put on shorts and T-shirt, come out, kiss her quickly on the mouth, say ‘love you’ and disappear down the steps leading to the beach. Anna remained seated, considering what line of attack she would use to convince her mother in law when they got back to Sweden.

She had not particularly studied the other hotel guests on the beach; not until they all stood up at the same time as if they had collectively agreed to do so. The distant roaring of the sea changed nature. She glanced down and saw something odd. The water appeared to pull back, leaving several metres of sand, stones and shells exposed, as if Moses had been there with his stick. It was strange. Anna had never seen anything like it and wondered why the tide would suddenly be so low. The water continued to draw back. People were pointing, laughing and some walked down to the exposed ocean floor, testing out the wet sand with naked feet. Apart from the excited voices of the people on the beach everything was peaceful, but this was definitely not right. This was not normal. Somewhere at the back of her mind she remembered something about the effects of earthquakes. There had been an almost imperceptible vibration two hours ago but she was sure it could not have caused the strange behaviour of the ocean now. Anna went down the stairs to the beach to ask what was going on; to see if they knew whether some strange tide phenomenon normally occurred at this time of year. She saw that a middle aged corpulent man boasting a white beer belly and a receding hairline in the neighbouring bungalow was doing the same. She had not spoken to him before but decided to do so now. She was fairly certain he and his wife were Swedish as well.

The man spoke first: “Look at that! Amazing! I saw something similar on holiday in America once. The surfers went mad.” At that moment someone screamed and pointed further out the sea. Many stayed put but a few started to run inland towards the reception building which was located on higher ground. A couple of young boys with surfboards happily ran out in the water. Anna had assumed everyone was excited about the tide but she soon became aware that an enormous wave, larger than she had ever seen, approached. From where she was it looked like a line in the water; a wall moving at high speed. She got cold from fear at the realization of the possible effects of such a wave. Her first instinct was to run for her life as fast as she could but the man next to her laughed and said to her mockingly: “Ha! Look at those people running.” The man waived to his wife in the hut and slowly walked down to the water’s edge. Perhaps he knew something she didn’t.

Anna reassessed the situation and decided that she may be overreacting. She went back up the stairs to her bungalow. Perhaps she was safer up there anyway. She was sure the build quality was good. The hotel was expensive enough… On her way up she noted that several birds deserted the beach area and the nearby trees. She then realised that the wave was enormous, gigantic and even taller than she had first thought. She heard terrified high pitched screams in the distance. Panic stricken she had only just reached the top of the stairs when the wave struck the bungalow, showering her with great force. She managed to grab hold of the fence. She had not predicted the power with which the water quickly filled the shoreline. There was water everywhere. A strong smell of fish or seaweed filled her nostrils. She struggled on in what felt like heavy rain over the patio to the door to the bungalow. With a loud cracking noise the bungalow suddenly started to lean violently. The stilts on which it stood begun to break. Clinging on like a leech she screamed for help but the people on the beach had disappeared, been submerged or carried away by the strong current. With horror she saw that the bungalow next door had already collapsed. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion even though it was a matter of seconds. She didn’t even have time to reflect properly on her situation before something hit her hard over the head. It felt as if her head split open. She was barely conscious but understood that the bungalow had crumbled on top of her. It pulled her down under water. She closed her eyes and waved her arms in an attempt to get to the surface.

TWO

London, England, June 2005

Erik Stenbock looked around and wondered if the other passengers in the crowded tube carriage had noticed his frustration. Unlikely, he concluded after having observed the tired and empty faces surrounding him. He was in a foul mood and had a headache. The fact that he had been forced to travel across London during the five o’clock rush hour made him even more angry with his mother. She normally handled all matters relating to Torpa but this time she had involved him just because he happened to be in London for the day. She clearly hadn’t grasped that he had a demanding job as a lawyer and that he would be tired after an early start, a journey to England and an all day meeting with one of his worst clients. Ignoring the feelings and wishes of others, in particular his, was his mother’s specialty. Without first checking with him, she had agreed for Erik to meet up with as she put it: ‘a very persistent professor from Oxford University’. This professor apparently had a particular interest in an ancient artefact which had been donated to the British museum in the nineteenth century by a previous Torpa owner. His mother had been thrilled to find out that the artefact in question was referred to as “the Torpa tablet” after its place of discovery. She had seen this information and new important academic contact as an excellent opportunity to get some publicity and perhaps stir up some media attention around Torpa, something which she constantly craved. Interest from Oxford University was not to be ignored in her view. Consequently she had been most helpful to the professor and had already provided all the material requested; in particular copies of historic journals from the estate. Apparently the professor and his team had found something of interest in the journals and had requested a meeting to discuss it.

Erik took off his tie, put it in his pocket and undid the top buttons of his shirt. He was relieved when the tube voice announced that they were in Holborn. He squeezed out on the platform, noting the approving glances from a woman by the door when he took off his suit jacket. Leaving soaring temperatures and sweaty armpits behind, he walked along the yellow line towards the escalators. Glancing at his wristwatch, he realised he was fifteen minutes late and started to run up the stairs and outside. While walking briskly following signs for the British museum he tried to compose himself as best he could for the meeting with the professor. He attempted to shake off his bad mood and to overlook the fact that he lacked any interest in, or knowledge of, ancient history. It was difficult to ignore that he was as excited about the meeting as he would be over an eyelash stuck in the eye. He viewed it as an irritation which would hopefully go away if he blinked sufficiently. Unfortunately, he feared blinking would not help in this case.

He had never been to the British Museum before and as he entered the gate he found an impressive building littered with tourists. It wasn’t difficult to spot the professor in the crowd. He was standing on the stairs together with a short, plain and pale young woman, who Erik assumed was one of his students. As he approached them, putting on a forced smile, he was surprised to see that the professor appeared younger than expected, in his thirties, not much older than himself, although still with typically professor-like features. He didn’t have a beard but his face showed traces of early stubble. His glasses were outdated and scratched. His hair was almost laughable. It appeared that he hadn’t touched it since getting out of bed that morning and had obviously slept on his left side, hence the flattened appearance on that side of his head. Erik smirked and shook the professor’s hand, introducing himself.

The professor smiled back and announced: “Paul Simmons, professor of linguistics at Oxford University. Pleased to meet you.” He then turned to his colleague and continued: “This is Emma Johnson, one of my most brilliant students, who is writing her dissertation on Linear A and its various theories of decipherment.”

The young woman blushed at her professor’s flattering words, making the spots on her cheeks seem even redder. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Mr Stenbock,” she said. “I’ve spent some time studying the Torpa tablet and have read a lot about Torpa, so I almost feel like I know you, or at least your childhood home.” She laughed nervously and glanced at Paul as if she wondered whether she had said too much. Erik was just about to say something in response when his eyes met hers. He was stunned. Although not much else in this young student resembled his late wife appearance wise, their unusual eyes were almost identical. In addition to the rare colour combination of one eye which was brown and the other green, it was something about them; possibly a slight twinkle, an air of intelligence or insightfulness or the way they were formed and the brightness of the colour green. She had Anna’s eyes. It was almost absurd. She was so unlike Anna in everything else; her complete opposite. Erik had never been speechless in his life and he found the sensation embarrassing. He quickly composed himself and muttered something about how much he looked forward to finding out what they had discovered. He hoped that he had managed to conceal his inner turmoil. They didn’t appear to have noticed. This reminder of Anna had come as a complete shock to him and he had a hard time focussing. In a blow, he saw Anna in her wedding dress, smiling, the tang of salty water in his mouth, the rumbling noise from the water almost submerging the screams, his own scream of powerlessness at the unfairness of the forces of nature, the disappointment at being saved and his squirrel-like search for Anna that followed. Anna’s body had never been recovered and she had been declared dead shortly after the tsunami but her eyes had remained in his consciousness day and night ever since. Seeing this woman’s eyes had opened a wound which had only just started to heal. He resisted an urge to shake her hard; so that the student’s mousy hair, spotty pale face, unplucked eyebrows and generally boring appearance would be exchanged for Anna’s striking radiance, freckled nose, captivating smile and tall slender body. God, he missed her so much.

“Shall we go in?” professor Simmons suggested and led the way through the entrance. Erik plodded along, still out of balance. The professor ventured through the domed entrance hall and stopped just by the entrance to the Egyptian rooms. In front of them was the glass encased Rosetta stone; the pride of the museum and, in spite of fierce competition, arguably its biggest attraction. The professor continued: “You can see before you the trilingual stone which was used to unlock the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphs.” He waited for Erik to approach the stone. Erik was somewhere else in his mind but to please him he studied it closely, noting that the stone was almost black and full of neat minute writing. He didn’t particularly reflect on what he was looking at exactly and why; too preoccupied with trying to erase the persistent images of his late wife and her brutal death from his mind. “The Rosetta stone bears the same text in three different languages…” The professor rambled on.

Erik decided to force the disturbing thoughts to go away by focussing all his attention on the professor’s mouth as he spoke, silently wondering what the relevance of what he was saying was. Before Erik had managed to understand why they were there, the professor ventured back to the entrance hall and indicated for them to follow. He continued through the lofty room, passed the reception desk, domed library and into an older library on the other side; the King’s library. The student was smug and clearly knew where they were heading. As soon as they entered, Erik noted the smell of old books; it reminded him of visits to the local library when he was at school; possibly the last time he was in a proper library housing something other than law books. The professor led them to the top floor in the most remote corner. There he picked out a volume hidden away in one of the back rows. Evidently one of the most popular books in the library, Erik mused silently and smirked. The professor immediately found the page he was looking for. At this stage, none of them said anything. The book in question appeared to be listing items in the museum’s collection. They walked over to a nearby table and sat down. Professor Simmons smiled and placed the book in front of Erik. There was a black and white picture of a part of a stone showing beautiful ancient writing presented in perfectly straight diagonal lines, crafted with so much care that every hieroglyph was an artwork in itself. He could see that the stone had once been circular in shape but it had been badly damaged and only half of it remained. The edges were uneven and full of ugly cracks. Below the picture was a brief comment about the donation in 1829 and the Swedish donor, Claes Erik Stenbock of Torpa. It also explained that the artefact would have been fifty centimetres in diameter had it been intact. It was four centimetres thick and made of stone. It also detailed that although the artefact appeared to have been circular, most historians agreed that originally it had been tablet shaped, square with a rounded top, with a larger carving at the bottom, probably depicting Pharaoh Ahmose and Queen Tetisheri. The text finished off with a brief statement that the reasons behind the disfiguration were unknown. So this was the Torpa tablet, Erik established. It was a beautiful artefact despite the damage but he was none the wiser about its significance.

The professor started to explain: “I have devoted a major part of my life to trying to decipher the unknown script called Linear A. You might know that this was the writing of the early Minoans on Crete. The Minoans were a powerful people of whom we know fairly little. They populated Crete and some of the other Greek islands in the Bronze Age from about four thousand years ago. We know that they had grand palaces, plumbing, running water and beautiful frescoes. No one has so far managed to decipher the Linear A script.” Erik noted a hint of disappointment in the professor’s eyes, as if he felt personally responsible for the insufficient levels of success in this regard. “But if we did we might be able to find out more about this astonishingly advanced civilisation. I have to say it’s certainly a difficult nut to crack though,” he added thoughtfully and glanced at the student. He then took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“I can vouch for that as well,” the student added with a brief laugh. “We believe that the underlying language which the script conveys is wholly unknown, which makes it exceedingly difficult. But we hope that we will be able to get some help,” she said pointing demonstratively at the book. Erik glanced at it but carefully avoided looking at the student, not wanting to catch a glimpse of her eyes.

The professor continued: “Yes this, my boy, is the Torpa tablet,” he said waiving at the picture. “The original is in a museum in Heraklion on Crete, so unfortunately we would have to make do with this picture today.” He sounded as if he was giving one of his lectures. “The Torpa tablet is famous among certain linguists and historians since it may be the key to finally decipher Linear A. The reason for this is that, like the Rosetta stone, it has the same text in more than one language; ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing on one side, which we can read, and incomprehensible Linear A on the other. Unfortunately, as you can see, we only have half of it. The other half has never been found. If we had the whole Torpa tablet it may possibly be used to decipher Linear A.” The professor turned the page in the book and fell silent to let Erik study it. Erik still had a headache and didn’t feel like reading anything but forced himself to focus.

On the left page there was an informal translation of the Egyptian side. Erik skimmed it quickly. It appeared to talk about some sort of calamity or war but the text was incomplete:

“…of water which swept in over the land with godly force. Smoke was clouding the sky. By day, the darkness was persisting with no [torch] being lit and by night a pillar of fire could be seen in the [west]. With his council, His Majesty descended in his boat to observe the devastation of the victors…

…coloured white. The descendants of the great Tetisheri [symbols for both priestess and queen] were orphaned and without possessions/[clothes]. His Majesty set about to strengthen the two lands, to cause…

…Before the [tempest] the fleet of the [ ] [coalition] had conquered the foreign invaders and liberated those who were under their command…

…came out victorious but lost their lives when the gods interfered…

…discontent of the gods [titles] ensured that the…

…disappeared under water. All that existed had…”

On the right page Erik could see a picture of the other side of the tablet; the Linear A side. It was equally impressive, with delicate inscriptions of writing boasting exquisite craftsmanship and skill. To Erik the script itself appeared funny; somewhere between a child’s attempt at coming up with a new alphabet or a very untidy form of the Greek. There were in no way as many pictures of recognisable objects as in Egyptian hieroglyphs. If anything, Erik thought, the writing was closer to our alphabet, with more abstract symbols presumably representing sounds rather than words. He suddenly wondered what Anna would have thought of the tablet. She had a history degree and owned an antiques shop in central Gothenburg; always on the lookout for old things with an interesting history, which was probably also why she had been so obsessed with Torpa. Perhaps this broken Bronze Age item would have been too old and damaged to capture her interest for the shop but she would no doubt have been more interested in it than he was. He had been studying the pages for what to him seemed like an eternity and he felt obliged to say something.

“It’s beautiful. A shame it’s broken. But surely you can get some help from the half tablet?” Erik made an effort to sound interested.

“Well, the problem is that the Linear A and Egyptian texts don’t correspond for an obvious reason: The hieroglyphic side has been inscribed diagonally and the Linear A side horizontally. So it’s useless without the other half.” Erik felt stupid for not having thought of that. Professor Simmons continued: “That’s why we need your help; to give us access to Torpa to search for it. We have recently made a discovery which has given us reason to believe that the lost half is still at Torpa. Obviously well hidden.”

Erik thought about the castle, its cold and empty rooms where it would be very difficult to conceal anything and the several acres of grounds surrounding it. He could not see how it could have remained so well hidden for several hundred years, unless it was buried in a hole in the ground or in vegetation in the woods. By now it would either be impossible to find or ruined by the elements. “Hm… I hate to sound negative but it might be something of a needle in a haystack search,” he said. “I understand why Torpa is the obvious place to start but I still think that if it was there and possible to find, someone should have found it by now.”

The professor stood up and started to pace back and forth between the table and the shelves for a minute as if he was pondering a particularly tricky issue before he turned to Erik who was still sitting by the table. “Stranger things have happened,” he said optimistically and smiled mysteriously. “And we should probably also explain why we think it’s likely to be at Torpa.” The professor fell silent and waited for the student to give details. With surprise Erik noted that the professor looked at his student affectionately, a look that seemed to convey more than simple admiration. He couldn’t help wondering if they were in a relationship and what the rules were on teacher-student affiliations.

The student cleared her throat. “I discovered a note in one of the Torpa journals. It was in the earliest journal from the middle ages. It was a simple drawing trying to imitate the cartouche of the pharaoh Ahmose. We know for sure that the tablet was crafted around 1550 BC, in Ahmose’s reign but his name is not mentioned on the half tablet. So the imitation of the cartouche of Ahmose must have been taken from the lost half. This means that the other half must have been at Torpa at some stage.”

“We also know that using Linear B values, the sound Ahs appears on the Linear A side,” the professor added. He had moved away from them towards the bookshelf and was not looking at them as he spoke. “The cartouche of Ahmose in Egyptian hieroglyphs reads ‘Ahms’, which is similar.” Erik didn’t bother to ask what he meant by Linear B values. Instead he looked at his wristwatch and planned his escape.

“Oh my god, is that the time!” he said with make-believe alarm in his voice. In fact, his flight was not for another four hours so there was no real urgency but he was tired, hungry and wanted to be alone with his thoughts. “I really need to rush off to the airport.” He stood up and walked over to the professor. He seemed disappointed, as if he had another hour long lecture about the ancient civilisation of the Minoans planned for him.

“I hope that we have managed to convince you that it is of utmost importance that we find the other half of the tablet. The discoveries that could be made if we did manage to decipher Linear A… Who knows what we may find?” He flapped his arms as if to illustrate just how exciting it would be. Erik nodded slowly in response, not sure what else to do. The student stood up and walked over to them. Professor Simmons continued: “We would like to ask you if we could please get access to Torpa to pre-empt the possibility that the tablet is hidden there. I understand that no proper investigation on this has taken place before.”

“As far as I’m aware, no,” Erik said. He had never heard of the Torpa tablet before and he could not imagine that anyone else at Torpa had either, not even his grandmother, so it was unlikely that there had been an investigation previously, at least not in the last century. “I will speak to my mother about giving you access. I’m sure there’ll be no problem.”

“We would also very much appreciate if you could have a think.” The student looked sheepish and even took Erik’s hand to emphasise her words. Erik was glad that she didn’t quiet manage to look straight at him as he was sure even a glance at her eyes would put him off balance. She continued, speaking quickly: “You might have an idea of where it could be. It’d be so good if you or someone else Swedish could also check the journals; I’d recommend the fifteenth century one and the one from the nineteenth century which mentions the donation.”

Erik promised to do so. They said goodbye and Erik was off. He could not stand the thought of getting on another tube, so he took a taxi to the airport. Feeling the breeze from an open window, Erik could finally relax and gather his thoughts. He was surprised that such an old important object had been found at Torpa and had got its name from the castle; but that his family had forgotten all about it only a few generations after its discovery. It was strange. He wondered how it had got to Torpa in the first place. Probably with the Vikings, he speculated. Although he was glad that his mother would get her share of excitement, he had no intention of getting heavily involved. He didn’t have the time or the desire to spend hours searching for an ancient stone tablet.

THREE

Torpa, Sweden, July 2005

The sledge hammer was heavier than he had expected. Although every step felt like pulling a tonne of bricks with each foot, he progressed at a reasonable pace towards the medieval building in front of him. Wearing his blue and white striped pyjamas and sheepskin slippers, he crossed the draw-bridge over the dried up moat. The white render of the old stone house had an almost purple tinge in the midnight sun. There was no wind and the lake in front of it was tranquil. From a distance he could hear a woman’s muffled scream but he was not able to make out the words. As he reached the black metal door he put down the sledge hammer for a moment. His hands were shaking as he fumbled with the keys. The familiar squeak from the door opening was almost submerged by another chilling scream. It came from upstairs, just as he knew it would. He went into the dark, cold entrance hall. There was a smell of mould mixed with wet clay. He had not brought a torch so he felt his way with his hand on the wall towards the stairs. The surface was uneven like rough sandpaper. Up until that moment he had been glad to be tall and broad shouldered but his size proved to be a major obstacle as he struggled to move in the constricted space. His large slippers didn’t fit on the steps. The weight of the sledge hammer slowed him down. For a moment he thought he was going to get stuck in the bend of the stairs but he managed to break loose. There was another cry, this time much closer. He knew she had been imprisoned inside a wall at the top of the stairs. Now he could hear what she was saying, voice weak and quivering but yet loud:

“Let me out!”

The words were not wholly unexpected coming from someone essentially buried alive. Now that he had reached his destination he felt calmer but he couldn’t bring himself to answer. He took a deep breath and used all his strength to swing the sledge hammer on the wall. It remained intact. He hit it again. Not a scratch. By the third strike he was getting tired. It was as if his slippers were nailed to the ground and as if the floor had turned into a gigantic magnet pulling the hammer down. Frustration and tiredness started to take its toll…

Erik woke up from a stifled thud followed by pain in his left foot. He looked around, drowsy from deep sleep. He found himself in the downstairs library. It was quiet and the room was dark but moonlight from the window illuminated the room to some extent. Three large books had landed on his naked foot. He had been sleepwalking. It had happened many times before. He would sometimes wake up trying to eat soap in his on-suite bathroom or peeing in the walk-in wardrobe but it was the first time he had ventured this far. In front of him was one of the bookshelves. He was alarmed when he noted that he had managed to pull out some of the oldest books there. He stretched down and picked one up. It was one of the valuable Torpa journals; oddly enough the older one that the student, Emma Johnson, had suggested he had a look at a month earlier. He had meant to deal with the student’s request by delegating the whole thing to his mother but after London it had slipped his mind. He hadn’t been back to Torpa since then. His mother had given permission for Professor Simmons to get access to Torpa to search for the tablet and a visit had been planned for August but Erik had forgotten to ask her to arrange for someone to study the journals further in advance of their visit. It was weird but perhaps his subconscious mind had remembered it and brought him there to remind him. As he was sliding the books back onto the shelf he was relieved to see that they were intact despite the fall. Only one page from the oldest one had come loose but he could easily slip it back in.

Trying to gather his thoughts he went over to the window to look at the moon which appeared unusually bright. It was full moon. He glanced down at the old castle further down the garden and thought about his strange terrifying dream. He almost expected to find the front door open but it wasn’t. Anna had been trapped inside the space in the wall where the medieval girl had died. He wasn’t sure what the significance of this dream was but he thought it was strange that he had ended up in the library in front of the journals when dreaming of Anna and the space in the wall. Was there a connection which he had missed? It occurred to him that a potential hiding place in which no one had looked in the last few hundred years was the gap between the inner and outer wall of the legend. Could the other half of the Torpa tablet somehow have ended up there? It was certainly a long shot but Erik decided to have a look in the journals.

He quickly picked out the oldest book from the fifteenth century, sat down behind the antique desk and turned the table lamp on. He opened the desk drawer and found a pair of white gloves placed there for the purpose of handling old books. With great care he turned the fragile pages. He could almost feel Anna’s presence as he started to look through the old scribbles. She had spent a lot of time going through the journals. Erik found it all very uninteresting; rows and rows of purchases, sales, expenses, revenues. The Swedish was almost incomprehensible, clearly old-style. It also included some notes about particular assets, such as new horses and cattle, as well as comments about staff, meetings with some named people and tax collections. He noticed a morbid headcount – appearing to be naming people in the district who had died from the plague, old age or been executed for one reason or another. There were also some haphazard comments about church visits and godly punishment displaying a mixture of guilt and deep faith. After an hour he had managed to skim through about hundred and fifty pages of unexciting scribbles. Though he had to admit that this record of daily events from a time long gone was a fairly unique collection of notes, he simply could not understand Anna’s fascination, bordering on obsession, with these useless doodles. Just as he was about to give up he came to the page which had come loose when he dropped it on his foot. It was the page with the drawing showing the cartouche of the Egyptian Pharaoh. It was very small and shakily illustrated and he was impressed that the student had spotted it. Next to the miniscule drawing was a comment stating “Fräls oss ifrån ondo”, appearing to be an extract from the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil”. He asked himself whether this could give a clue as to where the tablet may have been hidden away – maybe it had been disposed of to ‘deliver them from evil’. The reason why the tablet had been cut in half and why one half had been retained in the house was still a mystery but he suspected that it had been accidentally damaged, judging by the uneven cut which he had seen in the photo. He glanced at his watch and saw that it was nearly morning. The house was still quiet. He continued his deliberations. The tablet was certainly impressive enough, with beautiful writing on both sides. It could perhaps have been sufficiently exotic to the Torpa occupants of that time to create a possible assumption of magical powers. It was generally known that people in the area around the lake had been particularly superstitious, living by an enormous amount of unwritten rules created solely by reason of strange old traditions. This tablet would certainly have been a mystery to them. It could have been put down to ancient spells. Something could have happened to the family at the same time as the tablet had been broken which had made the author of the journals think that the tablet may have had supernatural influence on their lives; inflicting war or ill health or perhaps even protecting them from evil. He immediately thought of the plague and the girl.

Erik started to browse the following pages. The plague had killed thousands of Swedes in the fifteenth century and the journal illustrated this with chilling clarity. The death count showed that the region had lost many lives to the plague. It must have been a terrible time in history, Erik thought. Only a few pages on from the Egyptian Hieroglyph passage there was a reference to a key which belonged to a door which had been removed. There was even a drawing of the key but no further explanation. Erik guessed from the illustration which key this note in the journals referred to – it was still in the family’s possession. It was rusty and had been on a shelf in the grand hall ever since Erik could remember. It occurred to him that the gap where this door had once stood could be what had been blocked up to house the dying girl all those hundreds of years ago. That would in effect tie the space in the wall to the Torpa tablet, given the proximity in the journal of the drawing of the cartouche and the key. They were only five pages apart. The link was not wholly unfounded and the memory of his dream convinced him that Anna would now finally get her last wish fulfilled; perhaps they would now be forced to open the wall. What Anna had known or guessed would then be revealed. Erik doubted that Anna had had the bilingual tablet in mind when she pleaded with him to ask his mother about opening the wall but he hoped that he was right about the link. He decided to call the professor in the morning to mention his theory. Erik almost laughed at the thought that it seemed that Anna had now inhabited the bodies of an Oxford professor and a student to get the wall opened.

Surprised that he had actually found something of interest he put the book back on the shelf and left the room to get another couple of hours sleep.

FOUR

Torpa, Sweden, August 2005

Britt-Marie! Kom hit, jag behöver hjälp med mitt korsord!” Emma could hear Erik’s grandmother’s voice echoing from her bedroom all the way to the estate’s library where Emma was sitting attempting to work on her dissertation. It must have been something very important, she thought, as the old woman had a touch of panic in her voice but because she had shouted in Swedish she could not understand a word. Emma sat in a worn, old fashioned leather chair in front of the unlit fireplace. It was comfortable. She liked the room and the chair in particular. She likened it with an old trusted dog which had seen its best days but devoted all its attention and love to its owner. Professor Simmons, or Paul as she now referred to him, was there as well. He was sitting in a similar chair with a footstool supporting his feet, supposedly reading the local paper; in Swedish. In the few days she had been at Torpa she had grown to like the tranquillity and the striking beauty of the place. Although they had spent most of their time outside or in the manor house, the old castle building was not far from view wherever they were. Its mysterious dark windows, the two dark lakes surrounding it, the moat, drawbridge and its many ghost stories, sent shivers down her spine. She knew that the basement had a dungeon but she tried not to think about it. Erik’s family certainly lived very comfortably and they were evidently wealthy but she didn’t envy him. Erik’s childhood had been anything but happy from what she had heard, although Britt-Marie had at least always been there for him.

Britt-Marie had served the family since before Erik was born and had been Erik’s nanny throughout his childhood. She was now in her fifties, her hair primarily grey with bits of dark brown interspersed. Her appearance was motherly, as some would picture a wet nurse. Her rather outdated flowery dress and white apron didn’t conceal the fact that she was short and had a robust slightly overweight body with large bosom and chubby arms and legs. Her face had started to show signs of aging but her eyes were youthful, full of gentleness and kind-heartedness. She was now in the position of a nurse with the unenviable task of taking care of the old woman. Erik’s grandmother was not very old, merely seventy four but she had not been able to walk for at least ten or twenty years. For this reason she stuck to her bed most of the time, shouting orders to Britt-Marie who clearly had the patience of a saint. Emma could not feel any compassion for the old matriarch. She was plain mean and probably the reason why Erik’s parents had chosen to spend all of Erik’s childhood in their flat in Stockholm, rather than at the grand Torpa estate. Erik had told her that he had basically been raised on the estate by Britt-Marie. Emma felt sorry for him. Britt-Marie seemed like a very nice and fastidious person but it could not have been easy to grow up without the guidance and protection of his parents. It didn’t seem to have affected him in a negative way though. When he didn’t reminisce about Anna he was certainly charming enough to get a whole army of depressed people to laugh and he must have had a good upbringing to have got to where he was career-wise. She understood that he was on the brink of being made partner in the law firm where he worked; and he was very young for a partner.

Emma had found out from Britt-Marie that the old woman had never approved of Erik’s mother’s choice of husband – Erik’s father. For some unknown reason she had always hated him, going back as far as just after their wedding, and she had ensured that their lives had been turned into a nightmare by spreading rumours about him and not letting him be involved in the running of the estate. Apparently it was a miracle that the grandmother had accepted Erik. In fact, he was the only person whom she tolerated. Emma had seen the old woman only once during her week-long stay at the estate in Sweden. It was the day they arrived. Still in her bed, she had thin long grey hair and was fairly skinny with angry almost frightening eyes refusing to return Emma’s nervous smile. She had not even taken Emma’s outstretched hand but had muttered something in Swedish to Britt-Marie. Emma was sure she had heard the words ‘helvete’ and ‘jävlar’ in her short ramblings. These were two of only a handful Swedish words that Emma had managed to pick up at that stage and she knew it meant ‘hell’ and ‘devils’; very strong words to use for a pensioner. Britt-Marie seemed to have chosen a milder translation and had said apologetically: “She is tired today and would like to be alone for a little bit”. Emma had not found this at all strange or insulting at the time. She had assumed that the old woman was seriously ill or perhaps even senile. Her assumption was wrong as other than the fact that she could not walk, she had never showed any signs of illness. It was the constant shouting, bad manners and the way she treated her poor nurse that had further lowered Emma’s opinion of her.

“Britt-Marie!”

Here we go again, Emma thought. Less than a few seconds later she could hear Britt-Marie’s rushing footsteps out in the corridor.

“They should really install a better communication system; maybe some sort of alarm to save the old woman from shouting!” Paul said, not taking his eyes off the paper.

“Do you really understand what you’re reading Paul?” Emma asked with a mixture of admiration and bewilderment.

“No, I’m just looking at the pictures. Other than what I’ve picked up this week, I’ve never learnt any of the Scandinavian languages.” He cleared his throat and resumed his attempted reading.